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What Therapists Need from a Professional Association - An Aromatherapy Perspective

by Sue Jenkins and Ian Smith(more info)

listed in clinical practice, originally published in issue 68 - September 2001

When we trained as aromatherapists about 12 years ago, our professional association was simply a body we joined in order to get reasonably priced insurance and because the school with which we trained belonged to that association. What it did and what the therapist should expect from it was never mentioned. One just belonged.

Things have moved on a lot since those days, and in our modern world, where the demands are for more information and more transparency, the needs of the therapist and the public have increased dramatically. In addition, it is really important that therapists understand what they should get in return for their hard-earned subscriptions and, in turn, how they can influence the professional association and the whole profession to which they belong.

Many complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies are in the throes of coming-of-age and seeking to develop alongside orthodox medicine. In order to do this, therapists must have rigorous, transparent procedures for their activities and be – and be seen to be – professional, accountable to the public and well informed. In order to safeguard the public and the therapist a GOOD association should provide the following:

* Procedures whereby the public may bring grievances about a specific therapist, or a student about a specific training establishment, and have such grievances investigated;
* Interface with the general public and wider world of medicine and commerce;
* Links with other bodies within CAM, other health professions and with regulatory and governmental bodies, providing input on professional issues;
* Accreditation of training establishments. This should follow proper procedures and be stringent and transparent;
* A standard of training to which all members are trained;
* A common examination for all potential members;
* A framework for continuing professional development, by which members can access courses and so keep abreast of changes in the profession;[1]
* Advertising for therapists and training establishments;
* A constitution and code of ethics and practice to which all members adhere;
* A disciplinary procedure, with effective and enforceable sanctions;
* Competitive insurance for members, training establishments and students;
* The impetus for the organization of regional and overseas networks and branches;
* A journal through which points of view can be raised and up-to-date information such as research and important events can be disseminated;
* An annual conference and AGM.

According to the House of Lords' report and its endorsement by the government, some CAM therapies may go down the route of statutory self-regulation. This is, we feel, the way for aromatherapy, in spite of its being included in group [2], i.e., among those therapies "which are most often used to complement conventional medicine and do not purport to embrace diagnostic skills"2 and is not necessarily earmarked for that kind of regulation. We would suggest that aromatherapists use diagnostic tools within their own framework of competence and that the definition is a spurious one. However, that is another article. Statutory regulation would protect the public, the orthodox health professional who wishes to refer to an aromatherapist and the therapist him/herself.

At present, aromatherapy is represented by many disparate associations, some of whom are under the umbrella of the Aromatherapy Organizations Council, which is currently moving towards statutory regulation. Additionally, other aromatherapists are represented by different umbrella organisations. Statutory regulation would establish a national register of aromatherapists, and only those on the register would legally be able to call themselves 'aromatherapist'. This would banish the confusion engendered by a multiplicity of initials and differing standards.

The route to such regulation is long and costly and all sectors of the profession must be invited to take part in the procedure. This can be made more difficult when the members of the profession cannot even agree among themselves and view their fellows with mistrust and misgivings. We should all be endeavouring to develop and strengthen the profession, and our aim should be to see aromatherapy used effectively and safely, be it on its own or integrated with orthodox medicine. The House of Lords report[3] suggests (and this is approved in the government's response to that report)[4] that they would support single therapy bodies rather than multidisciplinary organizations or umbrella bodies. But bridges must be built both within the profession and with orthodox medicine.

The benefits of a single association for aromatherapy, as advocated by the Foundation for Integrated Medicine (FIM) and the House of Lords, would be far-reaching:
* Increased resources, both financial and in terms of person power;
* Unified standards of training and membership;
* Clarity for the public in terms of what constitutes an aromatherapist;
* Statutory regulation of title, so protecting the therapist;
* Increased standing and recognition of the profession vis-à-vis the public, orthodox health care and the government.


1. House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Report. The Stationery Office. London. p63. January 2001.
2. Ibid, p17.
3. Ibid, p44.
4. Government Response to the Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Department of Health. March 2001.


Bonnet Joel. Complementary Medicine: Information Pack for Primary Care Groups. NHS publication. June 2000.
FIM. Integrated Healthcare, A Way Forward for the Next Five Years? A Discussion Document. The Foundation for Integrated Medicine on behalf of the Steering Committee for The Prince of Wales's Initiative on Integrated Medicine. 1997.
FIM. Towards a National Strategy for Research and Development in Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The Foundation for Integrated Medicine. Nov 2000.
Mills Simon and Peacock Wendell. Professional Organisation of Complementary Medicine in the United Kingdom. The Centre for Complementary Health Studies. University of Exeter. 1997.


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About Sue Jenkins and Ian Smith

Sue Jenkins, BA (Hons), PGCE, is a licentiate of the London School of Aromatherapy, past member of the AOC executive, Secretary of the International Society of Professional Aromatherapists and Principal of the Edinburgh and Aberdeen Schools of Holistic Aromatherapy; please see adverts, pages 58 and 75. Ian Smith, MSc, (Chemistry), PGCE, is a member of the International Society of Professional Aromatherapists, has been chair of that society for the past 21/2 years, and is also a member of the AOC Statutory Regulation working party.

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